SUNDAY, Mar. 15, 2009 - P Berry (Literary award shaped like rocket / Worshipers at Amritsar's Golden Temple / Depression-era photojournalist Dorothea)
Sunday, March 15, 2009
Relative difficulty: Medium
THEME: "Prioresses" - theme answers are familiar two-word phrases where S's have been added to the beginning of each word, creating wacky new two-word phrases, which are then clued, "?"-style
Word of the Day: DESIDERATUM
This was one of the less interesting Patrick Berry puzzles I've solved, which is to say that it's a very solid effort, pitch perfect (difficulty-wise) for a Sunday, with a theme that is cute if slightly underwhelming. Title pretty much gives theme away, which makes it easy to fill in at least the initial square in every theme answer. The lightness of the theme was adequately made up for in the thorniness of several corners of the puzzle. For me, the far NE and the far W were the trouble spots, chock full o' answers I didn't know or clues I couldn't quite get my hands on. Nothing brutal, but enough of a challenge to draw out my solving time to a solid (and pretty average) 14+ minutes. All in all, a puzzle for S CATS (37A: Does some improvisations) who like answers with S TRAITs (66A: Nautical passage) but don't want to fall into an S TRAP (51D: Standing subway passenger's aid) - folks who are just looking for some S MATTER (48A: Modest knowledge) so they can S IT IN (62D: Audit, with "on"). Whether they sit in S PEWS (38D: Ejects), I have no idea. [/cutesy word play]
Theme answers (each one rated on a scale of 1-10):
23A: Ridiculed someone as loudly as possible? (screamed scorn) - 8
28A: Piece of hay? (stable stalk) - 3
30A: Comedic bits by guys sitting at a bar? (stool skits) - 1 ... too scatological-sounding
39A: Astronaut's old wound? (space scar) - 6
53A: Worked at an herb shop, maybe? (sold sage) - 5
57A: Change devices that divert trains to different tracks? (switch shunts) - 5
81A: Ore refinery? (smelting spot) - 7
84A: Large field of dirt? (soil span) - 6
99A: Reaction upon being hit with a chair in WrestleMania? (sham shock) - 8
108A: What an angry robot might do? (spit screws) - 10 ... tight, clear clue in perfect harmony with vibrant, vivid answer. I am in the middle of reading Naoki Urasawa's "Pluto," a 21st-century scifi manga written specifically as an update of Osamu Tezuka's iconic "Astro Boy" stories; there are (seemingly) angry robots involved.
111A: What Buffy might be doing at the end of a long, hard night? (slaying slow) - 7 ... cute, but gross (rare combo)
119A: Increase in perfect basketball shots? (swishing swell) - 9
Twelve theme answers! Man, that's a lot. Very impressive. Added considerably to the general density of "?"-style clues, which almost inevitably cause some solving slow down, however minor. As for those pesky NE and W sections ... there are apparently no end of epochs, not all of which have yet appeared in puzzles I have done. I learned EOCENE from puzzles, but have never heard of MIOCENE (21A: Geological epoch when mastodons appeared). Flying right underneath it was AVIANCA (25A: Colombian carrier), an airline I feel as if I've seen before, but not one that came readily to me at all. Managed to piece together the AVIAN part just from assumptions about etymology, then had to wait on the -CA. Over in the west ... well, I never remember IDA (63A: Gilbert and Sullivan princess), mainly because she could just as well be ADA or ANA or INA as far as I'm concerned. IDA IDA IDA. I have heard of Dorothea LANGE (55D: Depression-era photojournalist Dorothea), but completely forgot her name today - needed many crosses to make it work. Guessed SIKHS (53D: Worshipers at Amritsar's Golden Temple) very early on, but then took it out for some reason ... oh, because I couldn't think of a literary award in four letters that started with "H" - later I would exclaim "D'oh" and slap my forehead. The HUGO is quite familiar to me (74A: Literary award shaped like a rocket).
Other sources of momentary consternation included:
- Blanking on UNIATE (18A: Eastern Catholic who recognizes the pope's authority)
- Not knowing how to spell GOLLUM (69D: "The Lord of the Rings" ring bearer)
- Writing FLUNG instead of SLUNG (128A: Tossed)
- Forgetting an answer that I should have remembered because a previous crossword bludgeoned me with it once: PETRA (77A: World Heritage Site in Jordan)
- Not knowing the Atlas Mountains are in ALGERIA (118A: Atlas Mountains locale)
- Thinking ISIS was the goddess of the rainbow - it's IRIS (113D: Rainbow goddess)
- Completely forgetting KELSO, which, like PETRA, I learned from crosswords (100D: Only five-time U.S. Horse of the Year)
- Never having heard the fantastically ugly term PLUGOLA (90A: Kickback for good publicity)
All very gettable / fixable. What else?
- 12A: Org. founded by Samuel Gompers (AFL) - total blank. Kept thinking NRA.
- 27A: Oscar winner Kedrova (Lila) - nope, didn't know her either. Man, I didn't know a lot today. I'm surprised I got through as fast as I did, and without errors.
- 50A: Holders of jacks (modems) - tough. I was thinking "trunks" or "boots" or "little girl's hands"
- 67A: The Pacific's "Valley Isle" (Maui) - again, never heard it. Patrick and Will did a good job today of offsetting the easiness of the theme with with some late-week-style clues.
- 72A: Icon on Guinness Bottles (harp) - I kept picturing a parrot ... some talking bird. Why? Oh, here's why:
- 95A: Pythian Games site (Delphi) - there's an oracle there, too, in case you're interested.
- 117A: Hierarchy chart's top box (CEO) - I had to look at this clue for many seconds to convince myself I was in fact reading English. Read like gibberish when I first looked at it.
- 24D: Group with an Exalted Ruler (Elks) - Brotherhoods with secret handshakes and funny hats and Exalted Rulers freak me out a bit. We have an enormous, abandoned Masonic Temple in town ... a guy I know broke in and took pictures. Unbelievably creepy. I would tell you more, but I don't want to get the guy arrested.
- 75D: Maker of Caplio cameras (Ricoh) - "Caplio" has got to be the worst named-product I've heard in a long time. CRAPLIO! That is what I would call it, and will call it from now on.
- 109D: Arithmetic series symbol (sigma) - figured it was a Greek letter; just waited on crosses to see which one.
- 114D: Ingenue in Chekhov's "The Seagull" (Nina) - helped give the SW some toughness, as it is next to IRIS (which I botched) and crossing ALGERIA (which I botched).
- 120D: Old bronze coin (sou) - had to play the old ECU / SOU waiting game
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld